SAN DIEGO — As tough and nasty as any player in the NFL, whether it was putting Albert Haynesworth on his back or getting in the last shot in a tangle of large bodies, Kris Dielman found it hard to end his NFL career.
With one of his young sons babbling in the background, the four-time Pro Bowl left guard for the San Diego Chargers choked up as he announced Thursday that he was retiring due to a scary concussion that led to changes by the NFL.
“I had nine great years,” said Dielman, who recalled that no one thought he’d make it past his first training camp after signing as an undrafted rookie in 2003. “It just sucks that it has to end this way, but it is.”
Dielman said it was his decision to retire 4½ months after sustaining a concussion in a helmet-to-helmet collision with a New York Jets defender.
“I’ve got to get out when the getting out’s good still,” he said. “It wasn’t worth what would happen if I would have kept on playing. I’ve got a beautiful family I want to be around. I live in a great place, so I want to enjoy it. It’s been a great nine years. I had a lot of fun; a lot of memories.”
Dielman’s wife, Sandy, and sons Reid and Blake sat off to one side in the team meeting room, which was packed with players, coaches and front-office employees.
At one point, Reid blurted out, “It’s Daddy.”
The 320-pound Dielman was staggered by the injury early in the fourth quarter against the Jets on Oct. 23.
He continued to play because the Chargers were out of offensive linemen due to other injuries. The team didn’t diagnose his condition until after the game. Dielman suffered a grand mal seizure on the flight home. The team plane was met by an ambulance and he was hospitalized overnight.
Ten days after Dielman was hurt, the league’s injury and safety panel told game officials to watch closely for concussion symptoms in players. Officials were told that if they believed a player had sustained a concussion, they were to take appropriate steps to alert the team and get medical attention for the player.
“I don’t want to have any more problems, or have problems as I get older,” Dielman said. “I played a rough style of football. This one got me and I’ve got to move on.”
Dielman was salty and blue collar to the end. Dressed in jeans, a blue T-shirt and flip-flops, he recalled how he’d much rather block for a running play than a passing play. Dielman, who played at Indiana, mentioned that even though he became close friends with center Nick Hardwick, who played at Purdue, he put a Boilermakers sticker on his toilet because of the intensity of the college rivalry. Dielman said Hardwick is the godfather of one of his sons.
Quarterback Philip Rivers joined Dielman at the podium.
“I’ll certainly miss the great blocks and his ability to help us win, but I’ll miss him more in the locker room, in the meeting rooms and the bus rides and all those things,” Rivers said. “If you had 53 Kris Dielmans, you’d win a bunch of games. He plays football the way you played it as a kid, the way we all played it in high school. It’s never changed. While it’s a business at this level and there’s a lot of things that change, he treated it the same way. I know I appreciated it. I know the guys appreciated it.”
Rivers got emotional as he recalled a pre-game ritual.
“The one thing I’ll miss most, and this is kind of a private thing with Kris and I, but I always kind of give the linemen a little head-butt before we go out for the first play of the game,” Rivers said, sniffing back tears. “Kris always grabbed me a little tight and said, ‘Lead us.’ Him saying that every week was special. That moment there is probably what I’ll miss most Week One next year.”
Coach Norv Turner said he’s heard Dielman described many ways, and added a few more: “Stubborn, irritable, moody. That’s on his good days.”
Whenever the Chargers play the Tennessee Titans, Turner shows the team a clip from San Diego’s playoff win after the 2007 season. Marcus McNeill is blocking Haynesworth and Dielman comes in and puts the defensive tackle on his back.
“That’s what playing in this league is about,” Turner said. “The one thing that I will say Kris will leave with his teammates is a great example of how you play this game.”
As an unrestricted free agent after the 2006 season, Dielman left about $10 million on the table in Seattle and signed a six-year deal with the Chargers worth $39 million. He said he did it because of his friends on the Chargers.
Hardwick said Dielman was the best guard he’d ever seen because of his technique, tenacity, athletic ability and willpower.
“He’s not going to let you get one over on him,” Hardwick said. “He’s not going to let you be the last one to throw a punch; he’s not going to let you be the last one to move an inch. You’re going to go back before the end of the play. … You don’t know how hard it is to hate the person across from you every time you played him. He hated the person across from him every time.”
Dielman plans to be around.
“I’m excited to tailgate,” he said.